NewBlackMan (in Exile): Olympic Inequalities

Olympic Inequalities

by David J. Leonard | HuffPost Sports

In a recent blog post on The Huffington Post, Kelli Goff dared to ask the unthinkable: “Why Are Some Olympic Sports Whiter Than Others?” Noting the obvious and seeking to understand the absence of people of color from many Olympic sports, Goff attempts to answer why Gabby Douglas, Lia Neal, Jordan Burroughs, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Justin Lester, John Orozco, and Cullen Jones are unusual in the white world of sports. While noting class, environment, differential opportunities (I explore this aspect here), and countless other factors, Goff stays clear of racism:

Before the eye rolling begins, this is not a column about rampant racism in sports. But it is an attempt to understand why some sports end up predominated by one racial group versus others, and the long-term social and cultural implications of such segregation on the field, court, or gymnastics mat.

Despite her attempt to push the conversation away from racism in sports (and beyond), there has been ample resistance from readers. The truth is hard to hear. The reason why America’s Olympic team is overwhelmingly white, the reason why there are so few athletes of color within many Olympics sports, is the persistent impact of racism, segregation, and institutional violence.

Embodying class inequalities, a history of discrimination, and the realities of residential segregation, many Olympic sports are dominated by whites because the spaces, the neighborhoods, the schools and the very institutions that produce those recreational and elite athletes are racially segregated. Whether swimming, diving, or gymnastics, the pipeline to the Olympics is one where youth of color find difficult entry, if not outright exclusion.

We see the consequences of inequality and segregation as it relates to our high school sports, our recreation, leisure, and play. Research has shown that people of color and particularly lower-income communities have fewer opportunities for physical activity. For example, several studies published within the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) found “that unsafe neighborhoods, poor design and a lack of open spaces and well constructed parks make it difficult for children and families in low-income and minority communities to be physically active.”

Likewise, citing the study from Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) entitled “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010” Angela Glover Blackwell focuses on the structural impediments to a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise. “As the report illustrates, where we live, learn, work and play has absolutely everything to do with how we live. Low-income families of color are too often disconnected from the very amenities conducive to leading healthier lives, such as clean air, safe parks, grocery stores with fresh fruits and vegetables, and affordable, reliable transportation options that offer access to those parks and supermarkets.” Communities of color, and America’s poor, are disconnected from the very facilities and resources necessary to become a great champion. Access to pools, coaches, gyms, and healthy foods, remains a dream deferred for communities of color, meaning the dreams of an Olympic birth are all too distant as well.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan (in Exile): Olympic Inequalities.

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